Wednesday, August 3, 2016

People of Big Creek - Larry Ball

As an introduction of sorts, I'm posting pictures I have taken over the years of people we met in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. These are the "characters" in my book, Big Creek - A Closer Look at a National Park, in order of appearance.

Larry Ball is a Visitor Use Assistant in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. His job is to take care of the administrative aspects of the campgrounds, including being our point of contact. It's not just us; he covers four campgrounds and all the others are much larger than Big Creek. We couldn't ask for better.  Larry schedules us for campground hosting, along with the other regular volunteers. It can sometimes be frustrating when volunteers don't show up, or they are not so devoted to the job.

While the park rangers make traffic stops and rescue hurt hikers on the trails, Larry is the one who takes care of us.  He brings us all the materials we need to do the job, including forms, pencils, markers, reservation reports, brochures, newspapers, and park contact information. He brings us uniform shirts and comfy and warm fleece jackets. He makes sure we have gate and building keys for full access to Big Creek.  Most important, in my opinion, he provides us with park radios and fresh batteries when needed. We would be stranded alone in the wilderness without them.

This is Larry checking us in and going over paperwork the first year we met him in 2011. I love his little portable metal desk.

Another of Larry's jobs is to collect the camping fees.  I mention the "iron ranger" often in Big Creek. Here is Larry emptying the payment envelopes.  I was there to witness and to affirm that Larry did not pocket any of the money. Oh, and to take pictures of the process.

First, Larry had to kneel down and unlock the money box from the post.  This is tricky because he can't see the lock. 

When the money box is unlocked, he can pull it out of the post.  Easier said than done.  That is thick, heavy steel.  Larry told me that if you want to make sure something is vandal-proof, just put it in a campground. As far as I know, no money had been stolen from an iron ranger but, vandals have been known to put lighted cigarettes in the slot.

Once the money box is out of the post, Larry unlocks it at the bottom and takes out the pay envelopes.

Then, if there aren't too many envelopes, and sometimes even if there are, he counts the envelopes on top of his car and arranges them all in the same direction.  That makes it easier for the office staff to open them and count the money. All the envelopes get stuffed into a tamper-evident plastic bag.  So do the keys.  We sign the bags and a form.

Larry is in his mid-to-late sixties but, I have not noticed him aging the least bit over the years we have known him. Maybe it's his vegetarian diet.  Or, maybe it is his Buddhist meditation that keeps him calm and relaxed. His manner is always calm and peaceful.  Then, there is the periodic wise-crack.

Larry visits Big Creek at least once a week.  He brings us updated reservation and weather reports.  If there has been a big search and rescue, or some other event of note, he brings us the daily park report about it.  And he ALWAYS, ALWAYS makes it a point to tell us how much we are appreciated for our volunteer efforts. He is most generous and has given us huge pay raises, several times doubling our pay.

Sometimes Larry has time to sit and share stories with us.  He even laughs at Andy's corny jokes. 

When the weather is cold and wet, we invite Larry in for coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. He is Gatlinburg native, born in the house where the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail exits the park.  He always has answers to our questions about the park and the rules and regulations.

Larry is a seasonal employee.  He and his wife Kristen travel in the winter, often to exotic places, and I love to hear about where they have gone.

Here, Larry is listening intently to something Andy was saying.

And, as usual, had a response.

 Larry is an animal lover and is concerned for their welfare.  This is the day he came to Big Creek and met the abandoned pet raccoon.  The little thing followed Larry back to our host site. I half expected Larry to take the little raccoon home.

We could not ask for a better point-of-contact than Larry unless it was someone who would bring us chocolate-covered Boston cream doughnuts. Larry takes good care of us out there in the forest.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

People of Big Creek - Ranger Heath Soehn

As an introduction of sorts, I'm posting pictures I have taken over the years of people we met in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. These are the "characters" in my book, Big Creek - A Closer Look at a National Park, in order of appearance.

Actually, we met his wife Dana first.  She and their son Garrett had been swimming at the Midnight Hole when a park visitor got hurt. She came down the trail to call for help. I had met her by phone even before we got to Big Creek.  Dana was the park's volunteer coordinator and recommended Big Creek when I called.  Later, she moved to the Public Information Officer position and was named the park's 2014 Employee of the Year.

Heath brought us the car battery jumper/compressor to use with park visitors with car problems.  He and Andy opened the package and studied the instructions intently.

He studied every page of the manual before playing with the machine.

I did convince him to look up and smile for the camera.

We had a cookout at the end of our stay in 2011 so our daughter Jennifer and her husband George could meet Ranger Tim and his wife Kendra.  Ranger Heath came in and crashed the party with his ranger truck lights flashing.  If the picture is not clear enough for you to see, here Heath has two marshmallows on the skewer stuck into his holster with the gun.

Heath and Tim transformed into eight-year-olds toasting marshmallows and eating S'mores.

Always thoughtful, Heath never forgot Andy's monthly birthday cake.  His favorite was Key Lime Cake, but as you can see, he also enjoyed Fudgey Chocolate Cake.

He almost always stopped in to say hello when he was in Big Creek and let us know how much he appreciated us as volunteers.  When I say park rangers are the Park Service version of Boy Scouts, this is what I'm talking about:

The values and virtues we all admire and strive for, are wrapped up in a great big National Park Ranger package.  You are not likely to meet many people who love their job as much as Heath does. Nearing 50 now, he still approaches his job with the enthusiasm of a kid.

One day, on his day off, Heath brought his son Garrett to swim in the Midnight Hole. They posed for a picture before heading up the trail. Note that Heath is wearing a Boy Scout t-shirt.

One day, after responding to a missing hiker incident on Big Creek Trail, Heath leaned against the trailhead sign while chatting with us.

I told him that we call him Rescue Ranger Heath because we heard him on the radio so often participating in rescue missions.  I also told him that my other name for him is Dudley Do-Right. Here is a picture of Dudley in case you missed the Rocky and Bullwinkle show in the 1960s.

So Heath struck his Dudley Do-Right pose for us.

Heath had to go up to one of the backcountry campsites on Mt. Cammerer to close the campsite due to bear activity. I heard him asking some other rangers for a ride back to his truck in Cosby when he was done.  I got on the radio and volunteered to take Heath back, rather than have two rangers waiting around for him to come off the trail.  He accepted that offer and the other two rangers headed back to their area of the park.

Of course, there was a monsoon rain falling that night. I had a pot of coffee ready. Heath arrived about 11:00 p.m. soaking wet. I put a towel on the sofa and there was still a river of water flowing across the floor.  His boots were full. Here he is with Walt, one of the campers he had evicted from the backcountry site. We put him in the group site for the night with the gracious campers already there. It was a rainy, foggy drive back to Cosby where we dropped Heath off at the trailhead. Then, it was 1:00 a.m. before we got back to Big Creek.

Heath lives in Gatlinburg and very close to the Mellow Mushroom pizza restaurant we love. One evening, shortly before we left the park for the year, Andy and I drove to his house for pizza. His son Garrett had made a cherry pie with the cherries from a tree in their yard. Heath's mother lives next door and came over to supervise the crust making. Heath made sure to let us know that he was the one who pitted all the cherries.

 This was the first time we got the opportunity to talk with Dana at length.  She is the go-to person if you want to know something about the park. We had a wonderful evening with the delightful family. Looking at the photo now, I think Garrett got his father's smile and his mother's hair.

I don't remember when this picture was taken, but it is representative.  It's Grandma Dorothy's blueberry cobbler recipe.  Heath told me to thank her for giving me the recipe, which I passed on to him.  When I told him that Grandma Dorothy had been dead for years, he responded with, "Then I'll thank her myself when I get to heaven". He does love her cobbler.

 And, if you can't tell by now, I love Heath. From my sampling of park rangers, it is safe to say that there are probably dozens more rangers in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park who are just as lovable if I met them.  And there are hundreds more in the rest of the park system just as competent, charming, and lovable as he is.  But Heath is the one we know and love the best.

People of Big Creek - Ranger Tabby Cavendish

As an introduction of sorts, I'm posting pictures of people we met in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park I  have taken over the years. These are the "characters" in my book, Big Creek - A Closer Look at a National Park, in order of appearance.

Ranger Tabby Cavendish is a petite redhead. She was very professional and business-like.  Not as outgoing with us as some other rangers but, still friendly.  She did not come to Big Creek often, so we did not get to know her as well as some others. I found only two pictures of her in my files but, found a few more on the internet.

The two pictures I have were taken on the same day at the farewell picnic for Ranger Taylor at the Cosby Ranger station. When we first arrived, Ranger Tabby and Ranger Jared were just finishing up a report.

Later, she had a smile on her face when admiring Richard's newborn baby.

I found this photo of Tabby taken during a search and rescue mission in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Citizen-Times file photo

What I didn't know about her then, was all this I found on the internet. When Tabby left the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, she moved to Mount Rainier National Park. She has been exploring and researching ice caves. It's not just ice caves; I saw photos of her in caves all over the U.S.

She is also a mountain climber.  

And, a static trapeze artist.  I didn't even know there was such a thing.

Monday, August 1, 2016

People of Big Creek - Ranger Taylor Kasabian

As an introduction of sorts, I'm posting pictures of people we met in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park I  have taken over the years. These are the "characters" in my book, Big Creek - A Closer Look at a National Park, in order of appearance.

I don't really know much about Ranger Taylor, so I'll have to make some guesses and assumptions. I'm pretty sure he was an intern and maybe a seasonal employee. He was a real park ranger though; he wore a gun on his hip.

I had requested some more trail maps for the kiosk and Tim sent them with Taylor, who showed up in shorts and flip-flops.  Oh, and a big smile for the camera.

This is the day Ranger Tim left his lights flashing when he went up Big Creek Trail for a rescue.  When he got back, Taylor gave him jump start.

Taylor left Big Creek. I found him on Facebook, but have not made contact with him yet.  I'll update this post when I hear from him.